#127. Journey to Jordan: Mt. Nebo Encounter

 Photo by Pam VanArsdall

I stood on Mt. Nebo in the spot where God showed Moses the promised land that he would never enter. My heart was filled with wonder at the thought of Moses’ journey of faith in God and in the promise of a nation.

Moses has always been one of my favorite characters in the Old Testament. Perhaps it’s because I can identify with him in the fight against slavery. He was an abolitionist, used by God to free the Israelites from captivity in Egypt. Moses faithfully led the Israelites for years in the wilderness.

The Israelites’ journey and their struggle to trust God is often a great parallel to my own journey of faith. The children of Israel struggled to trust God. They complained, doubted God, and at one point thought that slavery in Egypt was better than freedom in the wilderness. Yet in all of that, God provided everything they needed to live.

So many times, I have found myself struggling to trust God in the unknown seasons. Fear has sometimes become more comfortable than faith, but just like the Israelites, God has always provided for my every need. He patiently leads me out of the wilderness of fear, doubt, insecurity, and discouragement and into freedom.

I wonder if Moses was disappointed to not enter the promised land? He fought hard to free his people, so maybe leading a great nation toward freedom was enough.

Looking out at the vast view of Mt. Nebo toward Jericho and beyond, the word freedom came to mind.

Freedom is a word that I feel I so often take for granted. Over the years, God has taught me the power of freedom when He called me to be a voice in the social justice movement.

I thought I had a good grasp of the word freedom, until I spent a day in Jordan visiting the baptismal site of Jesus and the place where Moses stood to look out at the promised land—two places representing promises made and promises being fulfilled.

To walk where Jesus actually walked and remember why He walked the earth truly captivated my heart. Bethany Beyond the Jordan and Mt. Nebo represent the journey of slavery to freedom.

To anyone reading this, do you feel stuck or enslaved to an idea or a lie about yourself or God? How has your journey from slavery to freedom been? Maybe fear has been your captor? I don’t know what point of your journey you might be in, but I do know this: He created us to walk in the freedom of the promise of being His sons and daughters.

As we pulled away from Mt. Nebo, tears came to my eyes as I realized that I had left a part of myself on top of that mountain. The encounter I had with God, looking out on the same vista as Moses did so many years before, changed my life. I felt challenged to surrender every fear and doubt to God.

In that moment with God, on the same mountain where Moses once stood, my heart was renewed at the reminder of the goodness of God. 

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#122. Loving The Unloved

Photo by Trevor Rapp

My wife and I met in college through involvement in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. After we married, we became very involved in our church. I taught Sunday school for years and served on different committees. But we began to feel a real need to do ministry outside of the church walls. We started reading the gospels to learn more about how Jesus did His ministry. We saw that He was involved in church—but He also went out and ministered to those not loved by society. Our prayer was, “Help us to see the world as You see it and live in it as You lived in it.” 

We began volunteering once a week at Room in the Inn, a seasonal ministry of local churches that welcomes homeless men during the cold winter months, providing hot meals and a warm, safe place to sleep. We did this all winter and grew to know and love many of the men. At the end of the cold season, I asked the leader, “What do we do now?” The response was to come back next November. But we didn’t want to wait. How could we keep connected to our friends through the spring and summer? I found out that homeless men in our community gathered at McDonald’s downtown. I began stopping in the mornings to have coffee and hang out with the guys. Usually one or two of the fellows that I had met from Room in the Inn were there, so that made it easier.

One day I was working on the deck at our home and thought maybe a couple of the guys would enjoy helping to build our deck. They did, and before long they were helping in other ways at our house. They became a part of our lives. Our daughter played soccer and they went to the games with us. We opened up our family to them because most had lost their families. We had a small birthday party for one of our friends and bought him a gift and a cake. When we brought out the cake he said it had been 14 years since anyone had even said happy birthday to him. Something so simple brought him so much joy. We started thinking about all that we had and what we could share. We had a washer and dryer that we shared so our friends could wash their clothes at our home. We had a phone they could use, a computer, a garage where they could store things, and a couch for when they weren’t feeling well. 

Around this time, we also started a home group that met in our home twice a month for a meal together, and Bible study with prayer and communion. We did this at first with other members from our church. After one or two gatherings, we began to invite our homeless and marginalized friends. Every other week on Friday night we began to have a group of about 10-12 people, half were usually homeless and half were “homed.”

One day my neighbor pulled me aside and said, “I’m not sure you know how uncomfortable the neighbors are with what you are doing – having all these homeless men in your home.” A few days later, I received a letter from the city saying that I needed to cease and desist having a “church” in our home. That same week we learned that another neighbor had hired an attorney in preparation for a suit against our family to force us to abandon our work with the homeless. We thought, “What are we going to do now?” We loved our house and neighborhood. We prayed about it and thought we could fight it and go to court, but even if we won, the relationships with our neighbors would still be fractured. We had been praying and thinking about ways to simplify—so we decided to leave the neighborhood. We informed the neighbors we were leaving, and we decided to buy a smaller, less expensive home to get completely out of debt. We bought a home not far away but on a busier street where our homeless friends would be less conspicuous. Our new neighborhood was more impersonal than our previous neighborhood. Now several years later, our new neighbors know we “help people” but beyond that there have been no questions or complaints. And the financial freedom we have discovered after moving to this house has been one of the most liberating things we have ever done.

We created a ministry which provides bus passes, clothing, sleeping bags, and tents. We also wanted to give the fellows the opportunity to give back, and they wanted to do that. We began a woodworking night in our basement one night a week. The money made from selling the items we create goes back into the ministry to help others who are marginalized or homeless. I love woodworking and making conversation. My wife loves opening our home and serving others. Hospitality gives her so much joy. God uses both of us to love and serve our friends.

At first, we wanted to change our new friends. We wanted to get them housed and help them find employment.  Over the years, we realized that God doesn’t call us to change people. He calls us only to love them and communicate His love to them. Striving to change our friends was not really loving them. So, we accepted our friends where they were, knowing that in the end, they may not change a whole lot. We realized this must be the way God loves us in our constant struggles with our own sin. God is patient. He doesn’t give up on us. He is waiting for us to open ourselves to Him and confess our need for Him. God doesn’t reject us when we fail.

God has transformed our hearts. I was a faculty member at a big university and led research there. But God was calling us to a different life. I no longer work for the university. I now work fewer hours and make less money. This has not been an easy process. I have lowered my expectations of myself in relation to my career and now spend more time with my family and serving others. God has returned much more to us than we have given up. We are very grateful for the change. Now when I drive past a big beautiful home or a nice car, I don’t long to have those things. We are content—more than content. Through this process, God has brought us a new freedom, new relationships, and much joy and love.

God has also changed my attitude toward those who are different from me. Before, I was judgmental. I thought, “Why don’t they just get a job?” I didn’t understand. Before, when I drove past a guy pushing a grocery cart, I would not have thought of that guy as a Christian—but now I know many of those guys! And many are Christians—and have wonderful relationships with the Lord. Their problems are just very visible. My problems, though less visible, are no less real. Jesus has opened my eyes and my heart and I am so grateful.

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ — Matthew 25:40

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#86 Gradual Change

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

My first outing after I was released from the hospital as a baby was to go to church. Fitting, as my dad is a pastor. 

I have grown up in the church, reciting Bible stories since I can remember, and I have always been deemed the “good child” of my five siblings. I came to college with a good foundation, ready to take on a broken campus. The devil had every intention of wrecking that plan and taking me down a different path. 

My freshman year I was simply lost. I was seeking approval in a long-time boyfriend, in the social scene of college, through my GPA, and just about every place that I knew I was going to be let down—that was where I was searching. 

My story does not have an earth-shattering moment where I turned my life around, but that is okay. Jesus wants to change your heart gradually over time, just like He wants to change it in a drop of a hat. That same year, I interviewed for a camp for the upcoming summer. I received the job and that summer changed my whole view on life. My heart was being renewed and God was showing me the “dirt” that was buried in my heart that I needed to remove. I learned that I no longer needed approval from a boy; I no longer needed the partying and drinking phase of college; I no longer needed a good GPA. What I needed was Jesus. That summer I learned how to solely depend on Him and fully trust Him with His plan for my life. That summer taught me that I am enough and I have all I need in Him. 

My second year of college has looked totally different. My life is so free! And it is my own! I am no longer bound by a boy, and I am no longer bound by the stereotypes of what college “should” be like, because Jesus tells me I am loved. And Jesus tells me that I am known by Him. How wonderful is it that the God of the ENTIRE UNIVERSE knows exactly what we need?! He knows the inmost part of our heart, He knows what we like for breakfast, He knows if we prefer coffee or tea, He knows what makes us happy, and He knows us better than anyone else. There is no boy, drink, party, grade, etc., that will ever compare to the love and freedom you can find in Jesus! And the amazing thing is that He wants to give it to you. He wants you to turn from whatever is holding you back, and He wants to wrap you in His arms tell you that you are loved and that you are enough. 

I have found my hope and it is in Christ and in Him alone. No one/nothing else will bring you the eternal hope that we have when we fully surrender our lives to Jesus Christ. And when you do, you will feel that freedom.

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#62. Life Without A Plan

 Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

Most of my life has been all about the control I can have. I have tried to control how I want my life to look, I have controlled my food intake and exercise until I formed an eating disorder, I have controlled my perfectionism until it has eaten me alive. I have controlled how I want to get attention from boys, and how I want my life to look like after college. The list goes on and on.

I’m a control freak—if you couldn’t already tell. But a year ago last Friday, I gave up something that I was begging to keep control of: my dating life. You might think that this is silly for me to give up control over, but to me, it’s not. In fact, it was the biggest area of my life that I have not given to Jesus. I want to date my way. I want to do things the way I think are right, and when it came to dating, I thought that I would have it all under control. I would find a boyfriend my freshman year of college, date until our senior year, and get engaged in the spring and get married and then graduate college with a new husband and a white picket fence. None of that happened!

My freshman year I struggled and looked to guys to find my worth. My sophomore year my perfectionism broke. My junior year I switched majors and friends. And coming into my senior year, I am just done with giving up a year of no dating. Yes, a whole year!! Can you imagine the control freak in me dying right now?? It was a struggle. But something that the Lord has whispered to me throughout my year of no dating and still continuously speaks to my soul is this: “You are enough. I am the creator of the universe. I love you so much, that I want to take all of the burdens that come from controlling everything and I want you to give it to me. I will take care of the rest. Live life without a plan, and just love and be loved. I will take care of the rest.”

Jesus is so good about pointing us in the direction we need the most work in, and He pointed me to my dating life because he knew it needed some work. This past year, I have learned so much about how my worth is in GOD alone. I might be single until I’m 35, which still makes me wince a little bit (I’m not gonna lie), but it makes me remember that if I’m still single by then, that’s ok. I would rather be single and in love with Jesus than hating my husband and white picket fence life that I had so envisioned for myself for so long.

Here’s the thing: This year, I have learned that I am not in control of anything. I don’t even control my heartbeat. If God can make the earth rotate, then surely I can give Him control over the things I shouldn’t be in control over in my life, because sometimes I can’t even control my hair in the morning! This last year, I have taken strides to love others, not have a plan, and follow the Holy Spirit’s guiding. Since doing this, it has led me to a summer job in Texas, new friends, a newfound confidence in myself, and a passion for people and ministry.

Giving up control of just ONE part of my life that I held on to so tightly has given me the freedom to live my life with reckless love and openness. I hope that everyone can give up the thing/person that they hold onto so tightly and rest in the presence of God. Giving up control was not easy at first, but it is something that I have never learned more from. I am thankful for the Holy Spirit’s nudge to relinquish it, because now, I can truly say that I live in freedom.

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#59 Resting In His Love, Trusting In His Plans

 Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

Undesirable, unlovable, worthless, ugly, sinful, never good enough…

What do all these things have in common? They are all LIES that have been whispered in my ear for years by the Devil—lies which I wholeheartedly believed. I’ve grown up knowing in my head that these are all lies and that my Father in heaven adores everything about me—but believing this truth was a totally different story.

I grew up singing along with Veggie Tales, chanting John 3:16, and saying my prayers before bed. I knew that Moses parted the Red Sea, Noah built an ark, Esther saved the Jews, and Joseph had a really awesome coat. Most of my life these were just stories holding no truth or evidence to how powerful, loving, and simply amazing the Lord is.

As I grew up, I was able to put on a mask and be a “Super Christian” by day, and a girl with an empty and broken heart by night. It was almost like I possessed a superpower, knowing exactly what to say in small groups, going to the right church events, posting the most inspirational Bible verses, and knowing all the words to worship songs on Sunday. Nobody knew that behind closed doors there wasn’t a girl with a heart full of joy and laughter, but a girl who was drowning and desperately needed rescuing.

My junior year of high school I started battling with depression and feeling weaker than ever. I would go to school with a smile on my face each day, and come home feeling defeated. Crippling insecurities followed me everywhere I went, a feeling of worthlessness consumed me, and my heart was absolutely empty. I was diagnosed with a mood disorder and prescribed medication, which I thought would surely “fix” me. The medication helped lessen the constant sadness, but the emptiness in my heart remained.

I realized that I needed more. I needed my Father. I came to a breaking point where I knew that no amount of medication could “fix” me and that only my Father could heal, restore, and rescue me from the life I was living. I finally took off my mask and exposed my weaknesses and struggles. It was amazing how freeing it felt to be a woman who was finally living for the Lord. I started to listen in small groups—not just focus on saying the right things, not just memorize words to worship songs but understand them, and not post inspirational Bible verses on Facebook but onto my heart. I needed to learn who I was in the Lord, and fight the lies the enemy had fed me for so long.

The Lord’s presence, guidance, and love became so evident in my life as I continually pursued a relationship with Him. I am now a senior at the University of Kentucky, and looking back at both the trials and victories I’ve faced, I see how God has always been by my side. I’ve gone through really low valleys and high mountains, but I know that I was never alone, and that the Lord has always been fighting for me. He knows my every thought and intention, and sees all my failures and sins, but loves me unconditionally. His love has healed me, given me comfort, strength, and peace.

I had let my problems and fears hold me back from glorifying Him and being the light that I was created to be for so long. I am now able to rest in His love, trust in His plans, and glorify Him in all that I do. My prayer is that through every season of your life that you passionately pursue the Lord and stand strong in your faith. You are saved, adored, and loved beyond measure.

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#52 You Have Never Been Alone

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

When I was 15 I fell into a relationship. Being so young, I never expected that what was about to happen over a span of three months would completely change who I thought I was. As the relationship fell into unhealthy patterns and abusive ways, I unknowingly went into a quiet and dangerous submission. I was pushed and pressured, and eventually my body was completely exploited. At the end of three months, he decided he was done.

I never spoke about what happened, and I let the shame and guilt of what we had done lay silent. I quickly accepted the lies that I could never be pure again, which caused a very deep chasm of depression and loneliness. I was overflowing with hate for myself, and as high school went on, I figured I had already done the “biggest” sin, so why does it matter what I do now? I turned to drinking, hating my family, and receiving “love.” I don’t think words will ever suffice for the drowning feeling of shame I felt.

My junior year of high school I went to a Young Life camp, and there God started to tell me the simple, clear fact that I have never been alone. I was never alone in his basement; I was never alone in the brutal fights that went on in my house; I was never alone when I was too drunk to see or when I felt like I was dying of hunger pains from not eating. His words, “You have never been alone” have carried me through the years and I am constantly reminded that I will, forever, never be alone.

In the spring of my freshman year of college, I had been on depression medicine for a year and decided to switch because of insomnia. The weaning process was one of the worst experiences of my life, but because of it I was debating if I had enough energy to go on a campus ministry spring break trip. I thought going home and watching TV for a week would cure my anxious mind and unsteady thoughts, but for some reason, I decided to take the 16-hour bus ride. I was immersed in love from people who told me truths about myself, and after a friend prayed over my depression and my brain, I played with the thought of not going back on medicine. Ever since sitting on the hard floor crying with her, I have been free and at peace for seven months.

I finally know what peace is. God has done incredible and amazing things through a girl who was too afraid to speak because of shame and guilt. But now I am free and am waiting for what my God will do through a girl who is no longer silent—who knows what true peace and love is. I have awakened, and I have a voice because of Him.

Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

Matthew 6:26-27

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#17. Learning Not To Hide Hardships

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

 Last night at the Bible study I lead, our group of girls sat in a circle and went around calling out wonderful qualities and spiritual gifts we saw in each other. It was a night of laughter and encouragement, and our hearts were full by the end of it. For me, the 20-year-old women told me they were encouraged by my positive and giggly personality and my peaceful presence. My eyes brimmed with tears at their kind words and also at the path I realized God has rescued me from.

Sometimes Christians will talk about what they think their life would’ve looked like had they not given their life to Christ. For me, I am certain I would be dead from suicide. I grew up in a stable Christian family and had a wonderful childhood, but at the time, I did not see it this way. I believed that no one in my family loved me. I felt invisible and unwanted. I was always too much and not enough. The first time I cut myself was in fifth grade and the first time I made myself throw up was in ninth grade. I thought seriously about suicide at different points in fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, and again during my sophomore year of college.

I became a Christian in seventh grade, but unfortunately, my struggles continued. I knew Christians were supposed to “struggle” with sin just like everyone else, but I never saw any Christians who really were. Everyone was doing what they were supposed to, and I was dying inside. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I didn’t want anyone else to find out, so I kept my fears to myself.

The Lord grew His love in me throughout high school and college and I slowly began giving my whole heart to Him in new ways. But when I lost my grandmother my sophomore year of college, suddenly all the hurt and loneliness I’d struggled with came back. I wanted to die. I was hurt that no one around me was noticing my struggle and, at the same time, I was desperately trying to hide the severity of my depression. I knew Christians weren’t supposed to want to end their life, so I hid my shame.

Breakthrough began when I started telling people—people who loved Jesus more than they loved me. First my roommate, then my mother, then slowly the people around me. God loves to use His people to love us better, and that’s exactly what He did once I stopped hiding.

Sometimes I still feel indifferent to everything, unmotivated, and down, but I don’t need to hide this from anyone, least of all my Father. I am freer than I have ever been. Once God convinced me to let go of my desire that no one would ever know this part of me, I began to see the fruit of not hiding sin and hardships.

The girls in my Bible study know pain, discouragement, grief, and hopelessness, and God uses me to provide the community and empathy that I longed for during those dark times. We are all better together. God has used us to encourage each other and usher in His peace and love.

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.